Friday, June 22, 2012

The missing stair.

Flickr user BadSwan
Have you ever been in a house that had something just egregiously wrong with it?  Something massively unsafe and uncomfortable and against code, but everyone in the house had been there a long time and was used to it?  "Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you, there's a missing step on the unlit staircase with no railings.  But it's okay because we all just remember to jump over it."

Some people are like that missing stair.

When I posted about a rapist in a community I belonged to, although I gave almost no details about the guy except "he's a rapist," I immediately got several emails from other members of that community saying "oh, you must mean X."  Everyone knew who he was!  Tons of people, including several in the leadership, instantly knew who I meant.  The reaction wasn't "there's a rapist among us!?!" but "oh hey, I bet you're talking about our local rapist."  Several of them expressed regret that I hadn't been warned about him beforehand, because they tried to discreetly tell new people about this guy.  Others talked about how they tried to make sure there was someone keeping an eye on him at parties, because he was fine so long as someone remembered to assign him a Rape Babysitter.

People had gotten so used to working around this guy, to accommodating his "special requirements," that they didn't feel like there was an urgent problem in their community.  They did eventually expel him, but it was after months of it being widely shared knowledge that he was a rapist and had done other unethical sexual things as well.

I think there were some people in the community who were intentionally protecting him, but there were more who were de facto protecting him by treating him like a missing stair.  Like something you're so used to working around, you never stop to ask "what if we actually fixed this?"  Eventually you take it for granted that working around this guy is just a fact of life, and if he hurts someone, that's the fault of whoever didn't apply the workarounds correctly.

"Fixing" doesn't always mean throwing someone out. (Although in the case of sex groups I think people are way too timid about that.  Being invited to sex parties should be a positive show of confidence in your character, not some sort of default human right.)  Sometimes a person can be "fixed" by talking with them bluntly about their behavior, giving them specific rules to follow, or putting them on notice that they have one strike left.  You don't always have to get rid of "missing stair" people, but you do have to work with the person, not around them.

This isn't just about sex.  Just about every workplace has that one person who doesn't do their job, but everyone's grown accustomed to picking up their slack.  A lot of social groups and families have that one person.  The person whose tip you quietly add a couple bucks to.  (Maybe more than a couple, after how they talked to the server.)  The person you don't bother arguing with when they get off on one of their rants.  The person you try really, really hard not to make angry, because they're perfectly nice so long as no one makes them angry.

I know not all these people can be fixed, and sometimes they can't be escaped either.  But the least you can do is recognize them, and that they are the problem.  Stop thinking that your inability to accomodate them is the problem.

This isn't just about individuals, either.  Everyone who says "I don't want to be a victim-blamer, but girls should know frat parties aren't safe places" is treating rape culture like a missing stair.  Everyone who says "it's an ugly fact, but only women who don't make trouble make it in this business" is treating sexual harassment like a missing stair.  Everyone who says "I don't like it either, but that's the way things are," and makes no move to question the way things are, is jumping over a missing stair somewhere.

Fixing staircases is a long and difficult and uncertain process.  But let's at least stop blaming each other for not jumping well enough.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Not just for kids anymore.

On our vacation, Rowdy and I stayed with his family.  His parents made us sleep in separate beds because we weren't married.  Gotta keep those frisky kids from having premarital sex, right?

Thing is: I'm 26.  Rowdy's 28.  We have jobs and apartments and sometimes we go to Home Depot and have long conversations about paint chips.  Using "not til you're married" as a lazy replacement for "not til you're ready" is getting a little ridiculous as we head toward our thirties.

This attitude isn't just a family thing, though.  It's coming from all over.  When I was a teenager, I felt like everyone--doctors, teachers, politicians, police, pundits--was trying to control and repress my sexuality.  Now that I'm older... I feel like everyone is trying to control and repress teenage sexuality, and I'm collateral damage.

So much of the discourse about birth control, about abortion, about sexually explicit media, about STIs, even about sex ed, assumes that everyone who has sex is a teenager.  Should we have subsidized birth control because it'll prevent teenage pregnancy, or ban it to discourage teenage promiscuity?  I don't know... let me ask my 40-year-old married aunt who uses birth control!  Should we allow abortion so girls don't become teenage mothers?  Yo, I can't afford to become an adult mother!

The other day I got a message from a reader whose ISP blocked her access to my site because she couldn't provide adequate "proof of adulthood" necessary to view "adult" sites.  She's in her 20s.

I know why this is happening.  Hell.  I know three reasons!  And they're all terrible!

1) Making things about kids makes it more shocking and gives it more emotional appeal.  It's easier to get people fluffed up about "teenage mothers ruining their lives" than about "women who can't or don't want to have a child for various, sometimes complicated reasons."  Or on the other side of the aisle, "teenagers having irresponsible, promiscuous sex" strikes a certain emotional chord that "people having sex" doesn't quite reach.  Either way, your politics sound so much more urgent if they're about the children.

2) A lot of adults don't fit the traditional narrative of how a person's sex life is supposed to evolve.  The narrative is along the lines of: attempt to be chaste until marriage, get married in your early 20s, start trying to conceive immediately after marriage, and stop having sex once you have enough children.

(It's a little silly to call it the "traditional narrative" when there have always been tons of people who didn't live that way, but tradition and actual history often diverge.)

Adults who have unmarried sex, adults who have sex but don't want kids, and older adults who still have sex, are sequence breakers.  It's beyond mere "bad behavior"--a teenager having unmarried sex is bad behavior, but a middle-aged woman having unmarried sex is unexpected behavior.  They just don't exist in the narrow sexual-life-history narrative that we use for political dialogue.

3) We take it for granted that we have the right to control teenagers.  Sure, telling a couple to sleep in separate beds is absurd when they're in their late 20s--but is it really going to help anything if they're teenagers?  I'm all for teenagers not having sex until they're emotionally ready and they've talked about safety and consent and expectations--but I don't think adults should have sex if they don't meet those conditions either.  It's important that adults don't sexually exploit teenagers*--but it's important that adults don't sexually exploit other adults.  I don't think teenagers should see porn without context and perspective on how it compares to reality--you know how this sentence is going to end.

It's probably true that it's harder for teenagers to follow the rules of good sexual conduct, because of their age and inexperience (although having to do everything clandestinely and with no support system can't help), but the rules aren't fundamentally different for them.

The way society tries to simultaneously micromanage and deny teenage sexuality, it's no wonder there's  collateral damage onto adults.  But the real damage is right where it was intended to be--and it is damage.

*Horrible fact: the majority of "teenage pregnancies" do not have a teenage father.

Is it possible for an adult to have a truly fair and consensual relationship with a teenager?  I want to say "theoretically, yes," but in practice, all the couples I've seen do it have been trainwrecks of exploitation, innocence-fetishizing, the teenager's unrealistic expectations being strung along, the adult's inability to behave in a manner acceptable to other adults, and straight-up abuse.  So I'm not super keen on finding that theoretical perfect adult-teenager couple.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cosmocking: June '12!

[This time I have a really good excuse for not posting!  Namely that I was very busy lying in the sun by the shore of a beautiful lake in the woods, and one simply cannot blog when one is vacationing that hard.  And before that I helped Rowdy move into and paint a new apartment.  So. Been busy. But also been a bad, bad blogger. I have a lot to say by now so I'll try to get back on track.]

Orange cover! Demi Lovato! Wearing an always-fashionable Zippered Cutout Unitard/Dress/Swimsuit... Object!  Her interview is about her struggle with eating disorders, which makes it totally appropriate and respectful that Cosmo has Photoshopped her to be skinnier!  "A Bonus Section So Hot, They Made Us Seal It"!  Who exactly is "they"?  There's no central magazine censorship organization!  Some retailers might reject certain content, but if they rejected explicit sex discussion I'm pretty sure they wouldn't carry any issues of Cosmo!  It's almost like this is a goofily dishonest gimmick!

But maybe there's something super scandalous in there, right?  So let's rip off the little seal on the "A Guide To His Package" section, and we get...
Guys have strong feelings when it comes to what you call their junk, and they tend to fall into one of two categories: They either like the word that rhymes with stick... or the one that rhymes with sock.
Oh for fuck's sake. This super duper secret sexymicious section can't even say "dick."  (And no, of course, there are no pictures of any interest.  There's a picture of a Sharpie marker, though, along with a claim it represents the size of the average erect penis.  I hope they mean lengthwise.)  I know this magazine is largely aimed at teenagers--which makes their terrible view of relationships more harmful, not less--but I'm guessing they don't go to a public high school if they're shocked by words that rhyme with bad words.
Men feel about their penises, I imagine, the same way you feel about your breasts.
No, actually, I have this thing called a vagina, thanks.

Breasts are important erogenous zones for lots of people (including me!), but equating breasts with penises is depressingly common, and seems to stem from two wrong-headed ideas:

1) Things that stick out are the important bits!  Vaginas are all hidden away and mysterious, and thus couldn't possibly be an important part of a person's sensuality or body image.
2) The stereotypical heterosexual man finds breasts more attractive than vaginas.  Therefore, women must find their own breasts absolutely fascinating.
Kinky sex is being sensationalized right now, but there's nothing new about dominant/submissive scenarios in women's fiction or in real-life women's fantasies.  Here's why: Submission is a primal urge, likely linked to our need to function in groups. It helps us accept authority. However, we also possess instinctive dominant urges, which allow us to take leadership roles.
And that's why every woman on Earth is a BDSM switch!

...Wait, no.

Also: SEX.  This stuff is (largely) about SEX.  It is not just about how I want a man to boss me around.  It is about how I want a SEXY man to boss me around in a SEXY way because that will stimulate me SEXUALLY.  Don't subtract that from the equation.  "I want to be sexually submissive because that's my fetish" is a very very different thing from "I want to be submissive because I don't like making decisions or having power."
Sexy: Skating with your pup [picture of a man on a skateboard walking a dog]  
Skanky: Showing your pups while walking your dogs [picture of a woman with large breasts wearing a tank top and walking two dogs]
They're not removable, Cosmo.  Maybe she would've very much liked to leave her breasts at home when she walked her dogs, but, y'know, not really an option for most people.

It's bad enough to declare behavior "skanky," but saying someone's body (and, I guess, the fact that she dressed in a way that made her body visible) is skanky--that's fucking... skeevy.
Let him initiate [asking you for your number]--it makes him feel manly to be the one picking you up. But make it easy for him by giving a few hints that you'd willingly offer up your digits. [...] If you're chatting about, say, bowling, tell him, "I love to bowl, but none of my friends ever want to go."
Here's the problem with this:
She: "I love to bowl, but none of my friends ever want to go."
He: "Gosh, that sucks. I hope you find some good bowling buddies!"
She: Thinks he's just given her a stinging rejection.
He: Not knowing that he was playing a secret game all along, thinks he's just politely expressed sympathy that she can't pursue her interest in bowling.

I did that for a while.  It sucked.  Now I (try to) do this:
She: "I love to bowl, but none of my friends ever want to go. Hey, maybe we could go bowling sometime?"
Why He Should Love You This Much More Than You Love Him
This is a big article on finding your "10% guy", the idea being that you should choose a guy who likes you 10% more than you like him, so you'll have all the power in the relationship.  So that's kind of creepy.  But it goes from creepy to sad when all the examples sound less like a guy who's smitten with you, and more like a guy who cares about you at all.  He calls when he says he'll call? He doesn't play games with your affection?  He treats you like he likes you?

That's not a 10% guy.  That's a >0% guy.

The article's also full of "this will be hard for you because you're not hard-wired to like Nice Guys" bullshit about how women are naturally programmed to go for guys who don't give a shit about us, but we need to break that programming!  Oh for fuck's sake. I don't even want to deal with this bullshit.
If something makes a man feel insulted, controlled, criticized, or backed into a corner, it shifts him into thinking emotionally, which isn't his strong suit--data transmits less quickly between the right and left hemispheres of the male brain, making it harder for men to process reason and emotion simultaneously.
...And that's why men can't move their left and right hands at the same time!

No, ha ha, of course I'm only kidding by implying that "brain hemispheres" are actual body parts with non-fuzzy-wuzzy functions.  Really, that's why you should never subject a man to anything so cruel as disagreement or boundaries.

I think I've figured out the Cosmo view of masculinity: Masculinity means being strong and resilient, but men's sense of their own masculinity is weak and fragile!  So it's women's job to carefully coddle and prop up men's feeling of strongness at all times.  Women's reward for going along with this charade is... er... um... I'll get back to you on that.
Invite your best girls over for a music video-worthy carwash. Put on your sexiest cutoffs, grab some sudsy water, and give your wheels a washing.
"Hey ladies, want to come over and wash my car for free?  It'll be a blast!"

Nice scam if you can make it work, I guess? I don't know why it has to be sexy carwashing, though. I think this is like the breast thing, where guys assume that if it's hot to look at a woman washing a car in skimpy clothes, it must be hot to be a woman washing a car in skimpy clothes.  They never seem to understand that, you know, those girls in the music videos?  They get paid for that.
About an hour before you get dressed, pop your panties in the freezer. Then slip them on just before you head out the door--you'll have the right kind of shivers in all the right places.
Oh Cosmo.